Speyside whisky tour Kashrus Issues with Whisky UPDATE

Over the Chagim period I was contacted by email by Rav Akiva Niehaus, a member of the Chicago Community Kollel, USA.

He told me that he had read my Blog post with interest and although he had enjoyed the descriptions of the distilleries, he wished to correct me regarding halacha and sherry casks. Rav Akiva Niehaus has written an article on Single Malt Whisky entitled "Sherry Casks - A Halachic Perspective"

You can download the PDF here:

He explained to me that the Ramba"m I quoted...

11:16 And it is permitted to put spirits or Muryas [fish fat in brine] immediately [into a barrel that had previously contained yayin stam], without any other (preparation) and it is permitted to put in wine after [putting in] muryas because the salt (in the fish fat mixture) burns it [the taste of the yayin stam] away.

...cannot apply to whisky as he says that everyone seems to agree that the flavour of the whisky which is poured into the sherry casks is affected by the yayin stam which was absorbed into the wood. Therefore, he concludes, that the entire volume of the cask should be considered as if it were all yayin stam and counted against any bitul calculation.

Taking this position, he explained to me that it really makes no difference from a halachic perspective, if there is actual yayin stam sloshing around the bottom of the cask or not as the entire cask halically is counted as yayin stam.

He further explained that there are only two ways in which the sherry cask can be considered free of the taste of the yayin stam.

1. If the cask had been left outside for 12 months or more.
2. If the cask had been charred by fire which would be equivalent to a "libun" process, effectively kashering the cask.

From my enquires, the sherry casks are not left outside for more than 3 months and according to Rav Niehaus's sources, the flame charring is only carried out if the cask does not smell nice. I wrote to my friend and whisky expert, Mike Drury and received the following reply:

There are several reasons for "Firing a Cask" . One is to purify the cask before the spirit is put in also Coopers prefer to burn casks where the heat tightens the staves against the rings. The burning may give colour to the whisky. Most important of all is the relationship between charcoal after burning and the "Sponging" or ability of the charcoal to draw the spirit into the wood, increasing efficiency in maturation or exchange of the properties of the oak into the spirit". In short this process was found to accelerate the maturation by one Elijah Craig an ex-Scot American in the early days of Bourbon whisky Production. It was also noted that fewer casks would go sour if the insides were burnt out forming perhaps a 3-10mm layer of charcoal on the interior.

Being that the process is not consistent even within the same distillery, I would think that one cannot assume that the cask has been charred.

I wrote back to Rav Niehaus and told him that in deed I understood what he is saying but nevertheless still find it difficult to swallow (unlike whisky, Ha Ha) that there is no difference between dry wood and actual yayin stam left in the cask.

Final Words

At least according to Malcolm, the warehouse manager at the Glen Moray distillery, if the whisky has a sherry flavour to it, it is because they added actual sherry or sherry flavour syrup. He did not agree that the sherry taste could come only from the wood itself. Nevertheless, Rav Akiva Niehaus concludes otherwise.

All those who are interested and would like to comment further, I strongly suggest that you read Rav Niehaus's article first.

For an alternative opinion, here's an online Kashrus site listing many but not all Single Malt Whiskies.

Kosher Whisky and Liquor List:


It splits the Malts up into three catogories:

1. Considered Kosher by some authorities

2. Considered Kosher by most authorities

3. Suitable for the Mehadren consumer.


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